On the ongoing arbitrary Islamisation of Atatürk’sTurkey


Is tomorrow’s Turkey today’s Pakistan?

The concept of philosopher-king, as given by Plato, diverges from its fundamental principle when the chosen ruler turns out be as whimsical as the ruled subjects


Never was a leader or ruler’s subversion or death celebrated in Pakistan. This trend, like other long-lasting perks including load-shedding and militarisation, was set during the dark reign of General Zia-ul-Haq and unleashed on his demise. Forms of government changed, so did the names of designations, but never had this nation’s loyalism to its leaders fluctuated until 1988. The mutation required a decade, and its phenotypic fruit is yet to ripen.

It was, however, this very change that was resisted by the people of Turkey in 2016. It was this very change that consumed up to 300 lives and that was commemorated a few days back on its 1st anniversary. Though Atatürkism is not eyed by pro-AKP government as a driving force behind this coup attempt, yet the fact that the Turkish nation protected its founding and fundamental ideology of secularism, nationalism, democracy and education cannot be denied. But what should be done when this very ideology is targeted by none other than the government that was entrusted as its saviour? How to save a nation from being Islamised just like the one in South Asia that has now proclaimed Turkey to be its model state? Why witness this capricious transformation subsequent to which the Turkish nation might be rendered incapable to make any other coup d’état a failure?

The concept of philosopher-king, as given by Plato, diverges from its fundamental principle when the chosen ruler turns out be as whimsical as the ruled subjects. In the case of Pakistan under Zia’s administration, people did not wear the cloak of radicalisation without showing any resistance. Yes, they stood up against the misuse of religion. Yes, they witnessed the innocent victims of the Hudood Ordinances being punished for crimes they had not even committed. Yes, our media and entertainment industry suffered a blow of which the wounds are yet to heal. Nevertheless, the decade-long infestation of minds resulted in shaping the Pakistani nation as it is today.

Similar is the case of Turkey where its people fought in the name of nationalism. The image that showed a man lying in front of a tank in the entrance to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport was manifestation of the peak of patriotism. But can we expect such examples to transpire in the future given that Turkey is on its way to becoming what Pakistan is today – an intolerant, jingoistic, Islamised republic?

Religious indoctrination through textbooks, under the supervision of orthodox Muslim clergy in Zia’s regime, not only justified militancy but also promoted certain ideas that could not be removed even during the next dictator’s rule. Several attempts were made by succeeding governments to reform education, but none could free the contents of our textbooks from the deeply entwined religious intent. The gradual radicalisation of the syllabus contents aimed at justifying Pakistan’s involvement in jihad against infidels. The strategy succeeded in achieving its goals but also changed the dynamics of harmony and co-existence. And now Turkey is walking down the same road.

The change being eyed by the chairman of a teachers’ union in Turkey as a “huge step in the wrong direction” will add into the syllabus effective from 2017-18 the concept of jihad as patriotic in spirit along with discussion on ISIS, the militant Kurdistan Workers Party, and the Güllen movement which is held responsible for the last year’s coup.

Charles Darwin presented his analysis and take on the subject which is thoroughly rejected by many all over the world. And this is the beauty of the discipline of scientific research

Turkish Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz defines jihad as “loving your nation”, and this is precisely what Pakistan did. We taught one person’s analysis and opinion to the masses and brought up a nation with a mindset that reflects nothing else but fanaticism. The Arabic wordjihad is translated by some as holy war and others as a spiritual struggle against the temptation to sin at an individual level. Yet another faction, the members of which include Pakistan and now Turkey, thinks of it as a war waged against other nations on the basis of patriotic and/or religious allegiance. Thus understanding the concept of jihad in its entirety requires a sane mind which could consider and interpret all the various dimensions of it.

Even then, such an in-depth study cannot guarantee a single and sound connotation of this word that is acceptable to all. A consensus could be reached, but individual inferences cannot be barred or prohibited from influencing the elaborated meaning of the term. The elucidation of the concept requires creative minds, and it is the kerbing of this creativity that Mehmet Balik, chairman of the Union of Education and Science Workers, dreads the most in the wake of exclusion of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution from syllabus up till high school in Imam Hatip religious institutions. “The bottom line is: generations who ask questions: that’s what the government fears”, he said.

Ismet Yilmaz holds Darwin’s theory as irrelevant for and ungraspable at the level of high-school students who, as a member of Republican People’s Party Mustafa Balbay points out, are eligible “to elect and be elected”. The question is: What makes evolution an un-teachable concept but jihad a manageable one?

Jihad is a renowned Islamic concept and has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an at several places, including Surah At-Tawbah (chapter 9), verse 24:

Say, ‘If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your relatives, wealth which you have obtained, commerce wherein you fear decline, and dwellings with which you are pleased are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger and jihad in His cause, then wait until Allah executes His command. And Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people.

The concept of evolution as a process of change leading to perfection has similarly been mentioned in the Noble Qur’an, such as in Surah As-Sajdah (chapter 32), verse 7:

Who perfected everything which He created and began the creation of man from clay.

A perfectly created thing cannot be further perfected. Therefore, everything needs to evolve until it reaches the perfected state. According to this verse, creation of humans from clay is one such example of evolution.

Charles Darwin presented his analysis and take on the subject which is thoroughly rejected by many all over the world. And this is the beauty of the discipline of scientific research; it gives everyone enough space to adopt a viewpoint, which could later be rejected or accepted but will always be discussed either as one of the many possibilities that might exist or simply as an explanation of negation. This is what sane thinking minds need – a spectrum of theories that has YES and NO as its two ends but that does allow a continuum of possibilities to play around with. This is the approach that is required to make common people understand the complex term of jihad and that is promoted by healthy scientific questioning and debate.

Seculars and liberals advocate the idea of keeping religion away from education. The demand is totally absurd because atheism and agnosticism, too, are based on denial of theology. No subject is really beyond the scope of religion. However, what religion actually is must be left open and not decided by the followers of any one creed. Creating taboos is a peculiar characteristic of society and should not be associated with religion, for religion does not prohibit discussion on any subject matter. If it is a part of this universe, whether material or non-material, it can be taught and studied, for religious beliefs essentially revolve around the force that created this universe and all of its dimensions.